Image courtesy of Michael Collins
This blog post is written by Gemma Pillay, from Nottingham. She works for the Nottingham and Notts Refugee Forum.
On Sunday 28th June 2015 I received a text from my friend Imran:
Hello gemma its Imran here I went to loughborouh for sign and they detained me can you help me please?
He had been detained the preceding Thursday (25th June) and moved from Morton Hall in Lincolnshire to Harmondsworth in London.
Imran was waiting for his substantive interview and complying with all reporting restrictions – he was devastated when the guards took him to a side room, placed him in handcuffs and calmly told him that he was now officially detained. He had nothing with him to prepare for this, no change of clothes or toiletries, and neither would he get any for a further week when the bag of clothes we brought for him took four days to cross Harmondsworth and finally reach him.
Imran had been on the demonstrations outside Harmondsworth detention centre but now found himself on the other side of the walls. No banners, no chanting. Instead a windowless room and staff who felt it necessary to remind him that he wasn’t in a hotel. But having been at the demonstrations, having been part of the crowds of people demanding an end to immigration detention, Imran knew that he wasn’t entirely alone.
I spoke to Imran on that Sunday morning and something he asked me to do dramatically changed things for him and also for all of us on the outside: He asked me to tell everyone we know what had happened to him. I sent out a message and the support came flooding back. He was contacted every day by people who wanted to help him by sending powerful messages of solidarity and defiance, by praying for him and even making a joke to cheer him up. When four of us went down to London to see him we had dozens of messages of support for him and a strong collective question of “What are we doing about Imran?”
When an individual is detained everyone is affected. I have heard the rumours which circulate and the questionable truths which emerge: “perhaps it was because he asked to report less frequently”, “that’s why you should never report”, “they’re detaining all people from that country now”. In reality there appears to be little in the way of consideration or predictability in the decision to detain someone. It is nothing short of state intimidation and breeds mistrust, shock, and a fear of both compliance and non-compliance with the system.
What could be the objective of detention? To control the movement of asylum seekers who are under the radar? If that were the case why detain people who are reporting, because they are exactly the people who are not making any attempt to avoid their temporary admission requirements. Is it to save money? Hardly. Home Office figures in late 2014 estimated that it cost £97 per day to detain one person. Is it to prevent the likelihood of absconding? The people I have known who have been detained include a young woman who is the full time carer of her mother with a spotless record of reporting compliance, unlikely to abscond, and a young man with a fresh claim submitted, living in a charity house with no likelihood of eviction, also unlikely to abscond. With such an apparently random approach to detention it is unsurprising that the community of people who are liable to detention see no clear instruction of how to behave in order to avoid it. It serves to maintain a constant threat, fostering the suspicion that you are damned whatever you do.
On Monday 6th July 2015 Imran was released. Having indefinite detention in the UK meant that Imran had no idea that his ordeal would end in 12 days. He spent every day living in a desperate panic that he would be left there for months, maybe more. He was put under pressure to meet with Home Office officials when he didn’t have time to contact his solicitor, much less arrange her attendance. He had no opportunity to have his documents translated. He knew that these would be central to his case and without them his claims would be unsubstantiated. He was locked in his room at night and heard through the door the casual cynicism with which guards dealt with the attempted suicide of another detainee. On Imran’s first reporting event after his release I went with him. He felt physically sick and when he was in the waiting room he was so scared he thought he would have a heart attack.
When Imran was in detention he sent me a message in response to all his support from friends, he said “We’re all a family now”.
We all felt very much that one of our people had been taken and were overjoyed when he was released. But what was achieved by his detention? Imran is still suffering with poor sleep and anxiety. Here in Nottingham we breathed a sigh of relief that we got Imran back and the monster had, for now, moved on to some other poor individual. And still, against all intuition and logic, everyone, including Imran, had to continue to go and report.
I go to Loughborough every four weeks with Ivan, my husband. We live with the constant threat that one day he might go into that building and I will be expected to leave without him. The next time I see him will be in a visitors’ room, and I will have undergone prison security searches before I can see him. We won’t know if or when he will be released. And he, along with every other immigration detainee, has done nothing wrong. Detention affects everyone. Husbands and wives, friends, communities, brothers and sisters, children and parents.
I am certain that one day people will look back at immigration detention and say “Did we really do that to people who were seeking sanctuary?” Fortunately, there are plenty, and a growing number of people who are asking that question now.